SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Marine Corps Air Station Miramar broke ground Friday on its first hangar to house the F-35, the most advanced fighter jet in the world.
While the plane may be controversial, the hope is to replace aging aircraft. The new project will also include a flightline expansion.
"We're building new F-35 joint strike fighters and we're going to send them right here to Miramar,” President Trump said in his visit to the base Tuesday.
Congressman Scott Peters and other military leaders were in attendance at the groundbreaking, thrilled about finally moving these projects forward.
"We're really taking care of the nation's defense," said Rep. Peters, representing the 52nd District. "One of the things when I went to the Armed Services Committee was to make sure that this facility was high on the list of priorities," he said.
Harper Construction won the bid and will employ about 2000 workers. The 160,000 square foot hangar is designed to hold up to 12 F-35s.
"We need to upgrade the infrastructure, the connections, the systems inside the hangers," said Col. Jason Woodworth, the Commanding Officer at MCAS Miramar.
While critics have pointed to design flaws and skyrocketing costs on the new planes, the military says aging aircraft like the F/A-18 hornets are becoming tougher to maintain.
"Older airplanes are like that telephone on your wall you had when you were a kid with the rotary dial on it," Woodworth said. "[The] cell phone in your pocket, that's the F-35 that does it all."
"3rd Marine Aircraft Wing was more excited than anybody here," said Asst. Wing Commander Michael Borgschulte with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
The Marine Corps plans to replace its entire fleet of Harriers, Hornets, and Prowlers with new F-35s.
"The more flight hours, the more times our pilots can get in the aircraft an actually execute their mission, the more proficient they are," Borgschulte said.
The Pentagon admits budget shortfalls have hurt military training, but it stopped short of blaming cutbacks for this week's F/A-18 crash in Florida that killed two navy pilots.
The hangar should be done by January 2020, about the same time the F-35s are set to arrive. This groundbreaking kicks off just two of nine projects scheduled over the next 13 years.
MCAS Miramar expects to have at least 70 F-35s by 2031.